Jeffers and the Political
Robinson Jeffers Association Annual Meeting and Conference
February 23 – 25, 2018
Carmel Woman’s Club, Carmel, CA
Robinson Jeffers never avoided the subject of politics in his poetry, and the current tempestuous political climate in the United States and the world has led to renewed interest in reading Jeffers as a political poet. “[T]his America sett[ling] in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening into empire,” is Jeffers’ judgement in “Shine, Perishing Republic,” even as he notes that “corruption / Never has been compulsory.” To at least one recent critic writing in May 2017, this poem “shapes an America in resistance” and demonstrates “an American form of moral courage that is required to resist” the “narrowness, opportunism, and cynicism” of the present state of Washington and thus serves as a model for the anti-Republican activists who number themselves among “the resistance” to the current administration.
Such a reading of Jeffers’ poem could certainly have come as a surprise to many of his contemporary and subsequent readers, for whom Jeffers’ inhumanist philosophy implies quietism over activism, much less of a left-wing variety (one critic wrote in 1948 that “only the most devout followers of the right-wing nationalists, the lunatic fringe, and the most ardent of Roosevelt haters could, after reading The Double Axe, welcome the return of Robinson Jeffers”). Plug the first line of “Shine, Perishing Republic,” one of Jeffers’ most frequently quoted poems, into a Google search and see at a glance the range of political perspectives that find in Jeffers a kindred prophet. From paleoconservative blogs to Democratic activist forums to online eco-utopian manifestoes, it is clear that, perhaps like Jeffers’ broader reputation among poets and critics since his death, his political legacy is marked above all by its variability.
The time is right for a reconsideration of Jeffers and the political: Jeffers’ own politics and its evidence in the poems themselves, the variegated political reception of his work, and the uses to which Jeffers’ words and works can be put in the present day. The organizers of this conference therefore solicit papers of 20 minutes treating all aspects of Jeffers and the political, including but not limited to:
- Jeffers’ politics
- Jeffers as a poet of resistance
- The political implications of Jeffers’ inhumanism
- Jeffers’ reception among American conservatives
- Jeffers’ reception among the American left
- Jeffers’ political reception abroad
- Jeffers and contemporary intellectual trends (e.g. deep ecology, speculative realism, eco-political activism)
Papers that address topics outside of this area will also be welcome. Paper proposals of 200-250 words and an abbreviated C.V. may be emailed to incoming RJA Executive Director Kevin Batton at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than November 15, 2017.